Introducing patient safety specialists

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Joan Russell, Head of Patient Safety Policy and Partnerships, and Wayne Robson, Head of Patient Safety Cross System Development, describe plans for designating and networking ‘patient safety specialists’.

Giving everyone in the NHS a foundation level understanding of patient safety is critical, but we also need experts to lead on safety in their own organisations. Feedback from the consultation strongly supported the development of a network of patient safety specialists in local systems. 

These specialists should be recognised as key leaders within the safety system, visible to their organisations and others, able to support their organisations’ safety work. In some ways the concept is similar to designating someone a Caldicott Guardian, Director of Infection Prevention and Control or Freedom to Speak Up Guardian. But in contrast to these designations we want the introduction of the patient safety specialist concept to develop existing people and roles rather than create new posts. 

Who should be a patient safety specialist?

Individuals across the NHS are already performing roles similar to those conceived for a patient safety specialist. All local systems and supervisory organisations (NHS regional teams, regulators) have relatively senior people in post with responsibility for patient safety, in many cases alongside wider responsibilities, such as ‘head of quality’ or ‘head of clinical governance’. 

That is why we will develop the patient safety specialist concept by asking NHS organisations to identify at least one person to be developed as their proposed patient safety specialist by April 2020 and to notify the national patient safety team who this person is. 

Developing the patient safety specialist role

With these proposed specialists we will explore and agree the key attributes that specialists should have on an enduring basis, what they should be responsible for and how they can be supported to perform their role. We will explore the potential for further professionalising the role, through accreditation or similar mechanisms.

Responsibilities

While work will be needed to specify further details, we think the patient safety specialist should have oversight of and provide support for patient safety activities across their organisations. Part of their role will be to ensure that systems thinking, human factors and just culture principles are embedded in all patient safety activity. They will need to work closely with others, including medical device safety officers and medication safety officers, and should support the fundamental principle that patient safety is everyone’s responsibility — a specialist is not accountable for an organisation’s safety on their own. 

Training

Training for patient safety specialists will be based on the national patient safety syllabus developed with HEE and will be guided by identifying what skills need to be added to those already available.

Patient safety specialist networks

Patient safety specialist networks will be developed, operating on a local, regional and national basis to provide peer support for those in the role, help them to keep up to date and share good practice, and facilitate engagement with regional colleagues and the national patient safety team.

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